We've been talking a lot here about how women talk.
I wish you could've heard our conversations in the last few weeks as the Veterinary Economics team discussed this month's cover story. There was table slapping, eye rolling, and the fervent exchange of ideas and statistics as we tried to get a handle on a very slippery subject: the earnings gap.
The fact that women earn less than men in veterinary medicine is statistically validated. The percentage varies depending on the study you look at, but all the research points to a considerable discrepancy, even when you control for years of experience and hours worked. The question is, why? When you start to speculate, that's when cheeks flush and voices rise.
Despite the contentious nature of the subject, we decided eventually (some of us a bit grudgingly) that Jan Miller, our cover story author, had a defensible hypothesis: Women communicate differently, and some of those differences can negatively affect income.
Of course, the earnings gap isn't isolated to veterinary medicine. According to the Department of Labor, women earn less than men across professions. Here's the percentage of men's salaries earned by women in specific fields:
• Sales: 64 percent • Technology: 85 percent
• Human medicine: 72 percent • Construction: 86 percent.
When trying to pinpoint the reasons for these differences, we can't take ages-old discriminatory practices out of the picture completely. But I'm intrigued by the fact that the two professions with the largest discrepancy are the two that rely the most on communication skills. This seems to point back to Miller's proposition: that a communication problem is holding many women back when it comes to earnings. The good news is that women in veterinary medicine have a greater opportunity here than those in almost any other field. When you spend a good portion of your day in an exam room rather than a corporate office, and you regularly calculate your production instead of drawing a paycheck, you can see immediate results of any communications changes you implement.
The way I see it, rather than moan and wail about the disparity in professional earnings, women can do something about it. Whether we all agree on the reasons behind the gap isn't as important as embracing the concept that solutions exist. With the increasing number of women in the profession and in veterinary school, the future is in female hands. And these hands hold the power to make the earnings gap disappear altogether.
Kristi Reimer, Editor